The New Song Movement - Nueva Canción
The New Song Movement had its beginnings in the late 1950's and early 1960's in Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay. At that time, under Argentinean dictator Juan Perón, radio stations were required to play "national music." In backlash to this suppression, a movement began to revive traditional Argentine music. The Argentine singer, Atahualpa Upanqui, became a popular figure known for composing a new type of music. Upanqui traveled and researched the musical folklore in rural Argentina. He combined his brilliant guitar technique with rural folklore and composed songs that told the story of "the common man."
In Chile and Uruguay, the same ideas were spreading. The Chilean artist, Violeta Parra, studied the folklore of her hometown Chillán and later of all of Chile. Her study, travels, and performance of Chilean folk music helped popularize the music on a national level. The cultural center she began in La Reína, and later the Peña de los Parra run by her two children, Isabel and Angel, are often considered the beginning of the New Song or "Nueva Canción" movement. The Peña and cultural center sponsored musicians and concerts focusing on Latin American folkloric traditions. Many of the artists were ethnomusicologists studying the traditional styles of their hometowns and the surrounding rural areas. In 1969, the Universidad Católica in Santiago Chile gave the Primer Festival de la Nueva Canción Chilena.
Although Nueva Cancion is rooted in folkloric tradition, the songs speak of the injustices suffered by commonly oppressed groups. Chilean born Victor Jara was one of the most well known Nueva Canción artists. In his song "Luchin," he lovingly describes the lives of children living in poverty. Jara's song "Angelita Huenumán" gives the listener the story of an indigenous woman weaver, and "Preguntas por Puerto Montt" denounces the 1969 government attack on unarmed peasant families in the port of Puerto Montt, Chile. Victor Jara's songs are a tribute to working people, with titles such as El Arado (The Plow), El Lazo (The Lasso), La Pala (The Hoe), or (En Algún Lugar Del Puerto (Someplace in the Port) which is about fishermen. Finally, the song "Plegaria a un Labrador" (Prayer to a Worker) is a prayer for the worker to see the strength in his hands and join hands with all his brothers to change the course of their own lives.
In the early 1970's during the Presidency of Salvadore Allende in Chile, Chilean Nueva Canción artists, such as the popular groups Inti Illimani and Quilapayun, flourished. On September 11, 1973, President Allende was overthrown by a right-wing military coup and so began the 16 year dictatorship by General Agosto Pinochet. Victor Jara was murdered along with many students and Allende supporters. Some Nueva Canción singers and musicians were able to leave the country and became refugees living all over the world. The songs were censored, although some songs survived because they told the story in code, as in the parable "El Palomo" (The Dove). In this song by Osvaldo Torres, the dove is killed by a cruel hunter. All the birds join together to demand an answer from the hunter. The hunter dies of fright.
Ironically, while Pinochet's military government was able to force the "New Song" movement underground in Chile, "Nueva Canción continued to spread throughout Latin America. As far north as Mexico, the "Canto Nuevo" (New Song) became a popular phrase, and numerous "Peñas" opened their doors to folk musicians in Mexico City presenting young Mexican composers and musicians like Los Folkloristas, Gabino Palomares, Oscar Chávez, and Amparo Ochoa. In Cuba, the "Nueva Trova" was born with singers Sylvio Rodríguez and Pablo Milanés. South American musicians Mercedes Sosa, Alfredo Zitarrosa, César Isella, and Daniel Viglietti from the southern cone were all singing a people's history, of the injustices suffered under oppressive dictatorships, and of the heroes of human rights and equality. Farther north, Alí Primera of Venezuela composed songs denouncing poverty and the abuses of the oil companies. And in Central America, Carlos Godoy and Luis Mejía Godoy sang about the plight of poor farmers andworkers in Nicaragua.
The "Nueva Canción" has always had these commonalities. The music has its roots in folkloric traditions in rural Latin America and the poetry tells the story of the common people. The songs are a tribute to the people and the traditions of the countries and in opposition to the abuses and injustices perpetrated by the wealthy and powerful.